Tag Archives: Berkeley

Berkeley Kite Festival

Berkeley Kite Festival at the Berkeley Marina

Berkeley Kite Festival at the Berkeley Marina

It has been several years since we went to the Berkeley Kite Festival so time to make another visit. As it does not open until 10 am we did not have to leave home at the crack of dawn. Tomate Cafe, which was our breakfast destination, opens at 8 so we left home a little before 7. It felt like half way through the day.

(Click on the photos for larger versions)

Traffic was heavy on 101. Obviously not as busy as during commute hours on a week day but more than we are used to at the weekend. Then we saw signs saying the three rights lanes were closed ahead. What – we would be down to one lane? I’d read a few weeks ago that 101 was being repaved around the center of San Jose but had not taken into account that it may affect us. Traffic started slowing down and the road was dusty with lots of debris. We thought we were in for a big hold up. Fortunately it was not as bad as we expected. They construction must have been going on through the night as they were busy removing the cones.

We left 101 and joined 880. Now isn’t that a boring freeway? 101 in the Bay Area is almost as bad but I’m sure 880 is worse. At least on 101 you get occasional views of the bay and there are always points of interest like Moffett Field in Mountain View and the airport nearer to the city. Just past the Oakland Raiders Stadium on 880 we drove by a building with a sign saying ‘Pacific Galvanizing’. It always amuses us when we see this building as the pipes on top are rusty. Mmm… not much of an advert for the company. A mention must be made about the state of the highway in this area as it is appalling. The stretch of freeway must surely be high on the list to be repaved.

We arrived in Berkeley at 7.40. It was too early for breakfast so we drove round the neighborhood of 5th and Addison. It was a bit run down but there were a lot of light industrial units which hopefully are still in business. A lot of the streets have ‘ Bike Blvd’ painted on the road surface. Not exactly a scenic route though.

We sat in the car and waited outside the Tomate Cafe for ten minutes. Alongside was an old bus which had been converted into living quarters. On the roof of the bus was the top of a mini van. Obviously the upstairs bedroom. Sticking out of the roof were a couple of smoke stacks and there were solar panels on the roof. Every window was covered in sheeting so didn’t know if anybody lived inside.

After breakfast we took a drive down University to look for an ATM. We passed lots of businesses with strange names. University leads right to UC Berkeley where, during the 1960’s, it was a center for student unrest and protests against the war in Viet Nam. It is still a very liberal area.

The Berkeley Kite Festival is held at the Berkeley Marina, which is at the other end of University. I knew that the only parking near the festival would cost $10 so we contemplated parking on the east of Highway 80 and walking across the footbridge to the festival. Driving around the district though we changed our mind. Parking was either at meters on the main streets or on side streets for free but the neighborhood was not very salubrious. We saw notices saying that parking was available at Spenger’s Restaurant and there was a free shuttle bus service to the festival grounds. When we found Spenger’s car park, there was still a $10 charge. We decided to drive over the freeway and park closer to the festival grounds and pay the $10.

There was a fairly long walk from the car park . Shuttle buses are advertised to be operating but we didn’t see any.  Maybe they didn’t start

Lone kite at the Berkeley Kite Festival

Lone kite at the Berkeley Kite Festival

running until later in the day. The Kite Festival officially started at 10 but, as usual we were early. Even so, there were lots of cars already parked and quite a few people were already making their way towards the festival and more cars were arriving all the time.

In the distance we could see several large kites already tethered and swaying in the slight breeze. We could also hear snatches from the public address system. On the site, booths were being set up but nothing was ready to  buy. We walked around to see what was going on. Already people had set up their picnic chairs to claim their place for enjoying the kite flying competitions which would start later. I watched a couple in a roped off area untangling the strings of a large kite whilst their son and his younger sister were having more success with a smaller kite.

There were the usual large octopuses in the static display area. I had picked up an event guide and read that there would be an attempt to break the world record for the largest number of Giant Octopus Kites ever flown. The record stands at 21 kites but they are hoping to get 25 in the air this weekend. At the moment there were only a few struggling to stay airborne.

We walked towards the hill where several smaller kites were tethered to posts and cars in an unroped area. It was a surreal experience to walk underneath them. The weather was chilly but there was not a lot of wind – not what you want when you are kite flying. All of the kites in the air were not very high and sometimes they flopped to the ground. Walking so close to them meant they could have landed on my head.

On the hill we had a good view of the whole site. Near the water we could see some people practicing with their acrobatic kites. We were looking forward to seing some of the kites competing later.

A beautiful Japanese kite at the Berkeley Kite Festival.  It took several folks to get it up in the air.

A beautiful Japanese kite at the Berkeley Kite Festival. It took several folks to get it up in the air.

I wanted to see what was on the other side of the hill so wandered off. I chanced upon a mini Stonehenge with an outer circle of large stones and an inner circle of smaller stones. In the middle was a solar circle. Solstice and Equinox celebrations are held quarterly in the park. Around the area were a number of information boards which paid homage to César Chávez who fought a long battle in the 1960’s and 70’s to form a union for migrant farm workers in the Central Valley. The park is named after him.

On the other side of the hill there was a view of San Francisco emerging out of the haze. To the south I could see the Bay Bridge, to the north the Richmond Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge to the west. Numerous small sailing boats were out on the bay. It was very peaceful. When I found a bench I sat down and wrote up my journal. I lost all track of time and when I checked my watch I realized that I had been sitting and writing for over half an hour. It was time to go and find Tom.

As I walked over the hill and the festival site came into view, I could see that there were more kites in the air, or rather attempting to stay afloat, and a lot more spectators. I made my way to the Octopi and Giant Kite Expo – as it is called in the event guide. I could see four giant octopuses in the air, plus three more on the ground. It doesn’t look like they will be able to break the record by getting 25 in the air today. Maybe they would have more success tomorrow.

I could hear a live band playing and went to investigate and came upon the Hamamatsu, Japan Delegation. Japanese kites are different because they are made out of paper and bamboo. One team were making a heroic attempt to get their kite airborne. All the members of the team wore similar jackets with Japanese symbols on the back. The leader looked like a pirate with a kerchief on his head. He was shouting and gesticulating to encourage his team. Every so often he would grab the string and jerk it up and down, but to no avail. The band, which consisted of drums, trumpets and a conch shell, kept going but when the kite flopped onto te ground, the music fizzled out. Another team, JHAL, tried to get their kite aloft but eventually they too had to give up.

I found Tom sitting on a bench and joined him. On the grass behind us were numerous family groups, sitting on blankets and eating their picnic

Huge octopus kite at the Berkeley Kite Festival.

Huge octopus kite at the Berkeley Kite Festival.

lunches and, of course, watching the kites. Behind them spectators who had brought their own kites, were busy flying them. The variety of designs was awesome. The most unusual were a gecko with a twisty tail; a diver; a black, white and red shark, but my favorite was a magnificent goose. Later on I saw the goose lying on the ground completed deflated. It did not look quite so majestic then.

Tom and I walked over to watch the kites taking part in the competitions. First we watched some of the single kites. They looked so beautiful and all synchronized to music. We were particularly impressed by John Gillespie performing to the theme from ‘The Magnificent Seven’. Next came the Kite Ballet Competition where we were mesmerized by three or six people flying acrobatic kites. One team going by the name of i-Quad were amazing. The way they maneuvered their kites took my breath away.

All this excitement made us thirsty so we walked down the dining aisle. So many different types of food from the standard hot dogs, korn dogs and pretzel to the more exotic. All we wanted was a drink though because we were still full from breakfast. We had a choice of soda, water, smoothies, coffee, lemonade and even a strange concoction of some lurid red liquid and dry ice. No thank you, just a bottle of water for us. The price was a bit steep but not as expensive as a cup of lemonade for $7 (but refills were free!)

Time to head home because there were far too many people around. Taking photos was getting more and more difficult because somebody always seemed to get in the way. But we had a great time.

Tomate Cafe, Berkeley

We decided to find somewhere different in Berkeley for Breakfast. Tom found one on line which served steel-cut oatmeal and he sent me the details. The name looked familiar so I checked ny old notebooks. Sure enough, Tomate Cafe was there. We visited way back in March 2003. Back then I kept a breakfast journal but didn’t publish any of my reviews. It will be interesting to compare our previous visit to this one.

When we saw the outside of Tomate Cafe neither of us could recall being there before. Maybe they have moved premises since our last visit. The entrance was a bit difficult to find but we eventually found it by walking into a courtyard at the side. As soon as I stepped inside I recognized it.  Very little had change over the years.

Straight in front as you walk in, are large blackboards on the wall. Tomate Cafe is open for breakfast and lunch and their menu is extensive. Their oatmeal comes with coconut, raisins, walnuts, milk and honey ($5.75). The description sounds exactly the same as in 2003 but a big difference is the price. Then it was $3.95. Tom ordered Huevos Rancheros at $9.75. He had the same last time but, for some reason, I didn’t make a note of the price back then.

Tom had coffee as usual. It was good and he told me that several times. For refills you helped yourself. I had water, which was also help yourself. The container said is was filtered water so that was reassuring. No ice though, which is how I prefer my water anyway.

I spoke to the lady who took our order. She has been working there for nearly 8 years so she probably served us last time though but in my hazy recollection I think it was a man.

The inside of the cafe is a little stark. There were a few abstract pieces of art on the walls and a large green plant with a pink ribbon around the container on an old stove against the end wall. An array of adverts made interesting reading. All manner of things were on offer – Fiction Writing, Bakery Loft, Open Studios, Summer Sonatas, Therapeutic Massage with a Nurturing Touch, Meditation, Pop Art your Pet, Make your own Saukraut, to name but a few.

Our food was served and Tomate Cafe gets high marks for originality. Tom’s Huevos Rancheros were served on crispy tacos, covered with a spicy salsa and sprinkled feta cheese on top. It came with black beans, greens and sausages. My oatmeal came on a pretty plate in a large, deep, round bowl. The oatmeal was hidden by a topping of hot frothy milk and was sprinkled with cinnamon. The only thing missing from las time was the sprig of mint on top. It was absolutely delicious. The coconut and walnuts were just right and the hint of honey was the only sweetener needed. Tom said his food was really good and spicy.

Way back in 2003 I did not check out restrooms so have no way of knowing if there had been any changes. But I can tell you about my visit this time. I had to ask where it was, expecting I would be handed a key to an outside restroom. It was inside though, at the end of the kitchen. The restroom obviously served as a changing room for the staff as there were white shirts hanging on a rail underneath a high shelf. On the shelf were several pairs of shoes, a pair of boxer shorts and some paper plates. Near the door stood a stack of metal coat hangers. The facilities were pretty basic and the hand towel machine, which was supposed to be ‘no-touch’ did not work. It amused me to discover that the maker’s name for the machine was ‘Intuition’.

That aside, it does not detract from the fact that we would definitely come back again. The food is excellent and original.

Tomate Cafe
2265 5th St
Berkeley, California 94710

UC Botanical Gardens, Berkeley

Old "Cool" bus

Old "Cool" bus

After breakfast at Bette’s Oceanview Diner, we took a short drive over the railroad tracks and around an industrial part of town.    The UC Botanical Gardens do not open until 9, so we had some time to kill.  This being Berkeley, we saw a couple of avant garde traveling homes.  One was an old school bus, now painted  many different colors, and renamed ‘Cool Bus’.  Nearby there was a small RV covered in profound statements.

With ten minutes to spare, we drove past the gardens and continued uphill to the Lawrence Hall of Science.  Although the sun was shining up there, the whole of San Francisco City on the other side of the bay was shrouded in fog.  We could see Berkeley below us and the Sutro Tower poking out of the fog in the distance.

At 9, we returned to the botanical gardens and parked the car.  Parking has to be paid for.  I put fourteen quarters in the machine for three hours.  The entrance fee to the UC Botanical Gardens is $7 for adults.  Seniors are $5 but you have to be over 65.  Tom and I are not quite there yet so we paid the full amount.  We were given a color brochure with a map showing the layout of the gardens.

Just inside the gate there were plants for sale.  One particularly caught my eye – a Californian native named Ceanothus Wood Blue.  It looked pretty healthy and I wanted it for our garden.  Problem being I did not want to buy it and then have to carry it around with me, so I decided to buy it on the way out.

The first section we entered was the New World Desert.  Tom was soon engrossed taking photos.  He was using a new 50 mm prime lens today and this was his first chance to use it.  I hasten to add it was no where near as large as the ones we saw at the Sacramento NWR a couple of weeks ago.

I wandered off.  The night before at my firm’s annul company dinner we were all given Flip videos and I was having fun using it.  I can take short movies on my camera but this little gadget is so much simpler to use.  When I saw the results at home they were OK but not good enough to post.  I will have to practice a bit more first.

From the New World Desert region I crossed the roadway into the California Section.  As I walked under a large Foothill Pine tree. I heard a

Secluded bench in the UC Botanical Gardens

Secluded bench in the UC Botanical Gardens

noise.  It sounded like a bird nibbling on a pine cone.  I stopped and looked up.  There was a squirrel darting around but the noise didn’t come from him and the nibbling sound continued.  For ten minutes I searched but had to give up.  Not far away I found a bench so sat down to write in my journal.

There was nobody else around at all and it was glorious sitting there in the sun.  From where I sat I could see the tree and still hear the nibbling sound.  Unfortunately  my binoculars were left in the car but I kept checking the tree to see if I could see any movement.  A small covey of quail ventured out of the undergrowth, pecked around for a bit and then disappeared into the shrubbery on the other side of the path.

Eventually I decided to return to the car to get the binoculars.  On the way there I bought the plant by the entrance, just in case it was gone when we finally left.  Very soon I was back on the bench and concentrated on checking out the pine tree.  Still I could not detect what would be making the noise.  Tom found me and we sat and chatted.  He had visited a lot of other regions whilst I had spent my time in just two.  He couldn’t work out what bird could be making the noise but deduced it could be two branches rubbing together.   If that was the case, I’d spent a lot of time over nothing but it was a pleasant way to spend half an hour.

I decided to take a wander and left Tom in California while I walked back through the New World Desert section and climbed up hill passing through the Asia region.  This time of the year I had not expected to see much color around but I was pleasantly surprised.  Some of the Blue Dicks were showing pink flowers and there were blue flowers on the Island Ceanothus in the California area and in the New World Desert there were several Coast Prickly Pears which had lots of red fruit on them – called cactus figs.  The Asia region had a lot of  camellias and there were white flowers on the Camellia Crapnelliana and a few red flowers on the Sasanqua Camellia.  On the Rhododendron Arboreum there were large red blooms.

Just one of the thousands of plants at the UC Botanical Gardens

Just one of the thousands of plants at the UC Botanical Gardens

Almost at the top of the hill is the Garden of Old Roses and even here there was some color – white blooms on the Tea Roses, rose hips on the Noisette Rose and a couple of yellow flowers on the Modern Shrub Rose.  Of course this is not the best time of the year to see the roses in bloom.  May/June they should be in full flower.

On my meandering way back down the hill I walked through the Australasia region and over the lawn to the Herb Garden.  Even though there was not a riot of color around, I kept getting wafts of unidentified frangrances as I walked around.  The herb garden is separated into several categories, including culinary, medical and fragrant.  I was particularly looking for a sage whose leaves have a wonderful smell.  I saw one in Redding at the Botanical Gardens but didn’t write the name down – silly me!

There were so many paths all over the gardens here.  You feel you are miles from anywhere but they all eventually meet up with wider paths and there is no way you could get lost for long.

One last place to visit before meeting up with Tom again near the entrance and this was to the Tropical House.  As soon as I walked inside my glasses steamed up so writing was a slight problem.  There was even a little color around in there – leaves on the Flowering Lily, purple flowers on the Sweet Potato, a white flower on the Amazon Lily and flowers on the Costus Igenus and the Fiery Costus.

After a very pleasant two hours at the Berkeley Botanical Gardens it was time to make our way home.

Bette’s Ocenview Diner

Bette's Oceanview Diner

It was a very foggy day and driving was difficult in places.  It was a ‘Spare the Air’ day – no wood burning allowed in the Bay Area until midnight.

We are returning to Bette’s Oceanview Diner in Berkeley as it has been a couple of years since we were last here  (here’s our take on the place from 2007).  The lights outside were a beacon and very welcoming.  Inside it was bright and cheerful with music playing softly in the background.

There were people waiting so we thought there would be a wait but we were in luck as there were two places at the counter.  They were the best seats in the house as we had a ringside seat of the chefs in action and it was a pleasure to watch them.  The two chefs coordinated well.  Everything was very organized.

Coffee was soon served and our orders taken.  Apart from one thing, nothing much has changed with the decorations since our last visit.  The color scheme, the pictures and the small jukeboxes on the counter and tables were the same.  The one thing missing was the huge slice of pie hanging from the ceiling.  In its place were Christmas decorations.  Tom asked the cashier about the pie and was told that it would be going back up the next day when the decorations were taken down.

To actually see our order being prepared was a novelty.  Tom had crab cakes with poached eggs and country fries (this was on the specials list and we didn’t make a note of the price).  Instead of an English Muffin he ordered a blueberry muffin.  I could have nothing else but oatmeal of course ($4.95) because they use steel cut oats here.  The oatmeal was ladled into the bowl (the same large shallow bowl with a green rim as before) then brown sugar and raisins were sprinkled on top.  By the time it arrived in front of me, the sugar had melted and the raisins glistened.

The food was delicious and satisfying.

The one uni-sex restroom is straight off the diner.  Over the door is a fish sculpture and a sign which says Toiltten.  Inside the same pink tiles and chrome strip but no pictures.  Where were the pictures taken on the moon and Mars?

Our conclusion – definitely a great place for breakfast but get there early.

Bette’s Oceanview Diner
1807 Fourth Street
Berkeley, CA 94710

Berkeley Kite Festival

We have had this date in our diary for some time now and were both looking forward to it.  I have only beenSynchronized kite flying at the Berkeley Kite Festival once before and enjoyed it very much.  The night before though there was some doubt as to whether we would actually be able to go.  We had nine cubic yards of cedar bark delivered and spent all of the afternoon trying to move and spread it.  It was back breaking work.  By the end of the day we had moved only half and were exhausted.  Would we be able to even get out of bed in the morning?

(Click the image for a larger version)

Amazingly we were both fine when we woke up.  According to the weather forecast it was going to be a beautiful day, although the temperature in Berkeley would be a bit cooler than in south San Jose.  There didn’t seem to be too much wind about but closer to the Golden Gate it would be different.

Our route is easy, north on 101 and then 880 all the way to the Bay Bridge.  Berkeley is a short hop from there.  880 is almost as devoid of scenic interest as 101 so there wasn’t much to grab my attention apart from noting how rarely you see drivers holding a cell phone these days.  I wonder whether there has been a decrease in accidents since the new law came into effect of July 1st.

The roadworks south of Fremont are nearly complete and it looks like there is going to be a carpool lane on this freeway.  The road surface is much improved as well.  In fact it was smooth most of the way to just north of the Oakland Coliseum.  Then suddenly we were driving on one of the worst road surfaces ever!

After an interesting breakfast at Cafe Durant in Berkeley, we made our way down University to the Marina.  There were traffic signs warning that there would be congestion between 11 & 4 due to the kite festival and you’d better believe it.  As it is only just 9 we were fine.

Synchronized kite flying at the Berkeley Kite FestivalThere still doesn’t seem to be a lot of wind about but a few flags were waving slightly.  Last time we came we were able to park for free but no more.  There are no parking signs up everywhere and just one designated parking lot where the charge is $10.  We had to go for that as there was nowhere else to park.  All the available spaces were taken up SUVs and trucks with boat launches attached.  The car park is not very big so I’m guessing it will fill up quickly.

The festival is held in Cesar E Chavez Park and there is no fee to enter the park.  We followed the path uphill and could see a couple of small kites up in the sky and came to an area where they were offering free kite lessons  Now I’ve never flown a kite and would like to one day but not today.  Next came the vendor and food booths.

More and more kites were getting into the air.  Tom and I stood and watched as a huge rainbow colored sting ray was slowly hoisted aloft.  It was part of the static display and tethered to a pick up truck.  While we watch the slow progress, two other amateur photographers joined us.  We stood and chatted for a while.  They were both retired and spend most of their time traveling.  They talked about the Albuquerque Balloon Festival, Bryce Canyon, Tall Ships in San Francisco and several other places they’ve visited.  Can’t wait until we retire!

Out in the main arena there were several kit fliers practicing.  The three keen photographers wandered off for a closer look to take photos.  I decided to sit on the grass, write and enjoy what was happening all around.  I had nothing to sit on but the rather scrubby and pot holed ground but I didn’t mind.  There were a few family groups settled nearby with their rugs, chairs, food, etc.  More and more spectators gathered all the while I  sat there.  I tried to keep an eye on Tom but somehow he wandered off without me seeing in which direction he went.  I knew I would bump into him somewhere later.

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Cafe Durant, Berkeley

Cafe Durant in BerkeleyBefore we left this morning, I looked up breakfast places in Berkeley.  We usually eat at Bette’s Ocean View Diner but decided to try somewhere different today.  Cafe Durant was well recommended so we programed the address into Mollie (affectionate term for our GPS) and set off.

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As we turned onto Durant Avenue in Berkeley, we began to have doubts.  Maybe we had put in the wrong address.  But Mollie deposited us right outside.  I had read a few reviews which mentioned it being upstairs and I could see the tables, chairs and umbrellas on the second floor but still the entrance is very hard to find.  There are several restaurants in the same building so look for the clues.  First clue is on the big sign outside.  There is an arrow pointing downwards.  So we walked into a dimly lit entry way.  The next clue is on the wall to the right on which is another arrow and a sign saying ‘Upstairs and turn left’.

It is unashamably a Mexican restaurant.   At first we were a bit reluctant to enter.  For a start the place was almost empty – never a good sign.  Also it looks a bit run down.  We decided though that if we could stomach the Video Cafe last weekend we should be able to manage this.  We had to find out why the reviews were so good.

There was just one customer inside and he had obviously overheard our conversation.  He was a young man and he told us that, indeed, the food was very good.  We asked where everybody was and he said that this was early for Berkeley (8 a.m.).  Even the 7-11 does not open until 8 a.m.  He also said that we could sit anywhere but we had to go to the counter to order first.

The menu is huge and displayed up on the wall.  I had difficulty finding the oatmeal, due to the glare of a Cafe Durant in Berkeleybadly placed spotlight, but it was there.  I asked if it was cooked in the microwave but was assured that it was cooked in a pan, so I went for it ($2.95).  I also order a fruit salad (3.95).  Tom ordered Huevos Con Chorizo (not sure of the price but about $7).

(Again, click on the thumb for a larger version.)

The seating was different.  No booths.  White linen talecloths with a sheet of glass on top.  Underneath each one were colorful soccer posters and every table was different.  All the chairs were made out of bamboo and had cushioned seats.  Out on the patio were twelve plastic tables and chairs.

The rest of the decor was bright and cheerful.  Big colorful pictures on the walls plus painted plates, plaques, hanging bunches of ceramic fruit and even a wonderful black sombrero with silver decoration.  Most impressive were two large, intricate, tiled mosaics.

Cafe Durant in BerkeleyThe food was served to our table pretty fast – well we were the only customers by now.  The oatmeal arrived on a large, blue, ceramic plate in a wide, shallow, round, plastic bowl with cinnamon sprinkled on top.  Sugar, raisins and milk came in small plastic pots.  There was not enough milk so I had to ask for more.  The fruit salad came in an identical bowl to the oatmeal and contained cubes of green & orange melon and apples with slices of bananas and strawberries.  It was a large portion.  Tom’s Huevos, with its rice, refried and black beans with a flour tortillas, looked truly Mexican.  My oatmeal was so-so but Tom was well impressed with his, so the reputation of Cafe Durant is well founded.

One word of caution, do not use the restroom – it’s pretty disgusting.  To get to it you have to walk through the kitchen.  When I told Tom he commented that it was part of the charm. Yeah right.

Conclusion.  If you are up for trying something different and you like Mexican food, this is the place for you.

Note from Tom:  Bette’s is much better.  Not Mexican but wonderful scrambled eggs.

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